On solid footing

Footings are going in this week as a crew from Scott Mayhew Contracting gets ready to put up walls that will enclose the lower level of the old Victory Church on Winnipeg Street as part of a larger redevelopment project.

Construction crews have started on a long-awaited renovation of a commercial building in downtown Penticton that played a starring role in a dark chapter in the city’s recent history.

Following the departure of the Victory Church congregation from its former home at 352 Winnipeg St., the site was approved in 2020 for redevelopment into a mix of commercial, residential and self-storage uses.

Then the pandemic happened.

Seeking a large, empty space near downtown social services, BC Housing leased the building in 2020 to create a hygiene centre for the street population and later converted it into an emergency shelter, which angered some residents and triggered a legal battle between the city and provincial government.

Following the shelter’s closure in spring 2022, the building’s owner – West Vancouver-based Pentictonia Holdings – went back to the drawing board and came up with a new scheme for the site that removed the residential component and went all in on commercial space.

Shovels hit the ground in December and construction is expected to wrap up in about six months, according to Philip Fox, the building’s leasing agent.

“It’s going to be a wonderful renovation and a great, new lease on life for that building,” he said in an interview this week.

Crews are currently putting a new roof on the building, which was constructed in 1990 as a conference centre, and working on footings for the walls that will eventually enclose the former parkade on the lower level that served as a gathering spot for transients.

Once complete, the lower level will feature two new commercial spaces – approximately 500 and 1,000 square feet, respectively – plus storage lockers.

The upper level will feature two new commercial spaces – approximately 1,000 and 2,000 square feet, respectively – while it already has an anchor tenant in Flip’PEN Gymnastics.

The gym moved into the new space this past fall after pulling up stakes at Orchard House.

“There have been some growing pains, as there always are with a move, but it is a great building that has amazing potential to bring all sorts of opportunities to the neighbourhood,” said Flip’PEN owner Karlyn Gurnsey in an email.

“With all the space that we now have, we have plans to move beyond just gymnastics to offer a varied fitness community for all ages.”

Gurnsey also noted she’s looking for coaches “of any discipline that may fit in with our mission of building that community.

“This may not just be fitness either – fine arts, nutrition, healthy living, child care, meeting space, any way we could benefit our neighbours!”

The site is also flexible with C5 zoning, which Fox described as “a broad mix, anything from offices to restaurants to veterinary office.”

“Bring your ideas and we’ll certainly chat with you about it,” said Fox.

“We’d love to see a daycare, for instance. We’d love to see other compatible businesses with our anchor tenant.”

Mayor Julius Bloomfield is similarly excited to see what the future holds for the site.

“It’s always a positive to see investment in Penticton and, especially downtown, which brings a continued vibrancy to our core. This is an example of how sites and areas can be rehabilitated in a way that turns into a win-win for everyone involved,” said Bloomfield in a statement Wednesday.

“The work being done to create an inviting environment for the gymnastic club and other users of the space is to be applauded.”

Fox said the decision to drop the residential component from the project was meant to fill a shortage of downtown commercial space,

“If you look at the amount of commercial space that’s been created in the city over the last five, 10 years, it’s a very small amount. If you look at the amount of residential that’s been created in the city, it’s a very large amount in comparison to the increase in commercial,” said Fox.

“We’ve just gone through a pandemic and businesses have gone through hard times, so you’d think there would be space everywhere, but there isn’t.”